Relocation of Center for Ideas and Society Promotes Higher Productivity

By Laila Rashid, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
April 30, 2014

Prior to 2013, the Center for Ideas and Society, a “hideaway” where professors and visiting fellows can spend time on their research while being relieved from their teaching and administrative duties, was located very inconveniently across two floors in the Interdisciplinary Building. Just last December, the center was relocated to College Building South across the campus perimeter road from Anderson Hall. Georgia Warnke, the center’s director since 2009, expressed great enthusiasm over the move: “We have much more space and the fellows and administration can finally work together in one place.” The center is partially on campus but also removed, so the professors can work with fewer distractions but still be visited by students. Each quarter, the center allows for six or seven visiting fellows from other universities, who are given an office and often work on individual projects, while two groups of four UCR professors work on research more collaboratively. 

This past quarter, one resident fellowship group met weekly to discuss Nietzsche’s legacies in the humanities, engaging with his theory of culture and influence on philosophers such as Benjamin, Adorno, Camus, Freud, Shestov, and Foucault.  Another met to discuss emotional bilingual code switching, which is the ability to respond emotionally across two different languages. This spring, professors from the departments of comparative literature, women’s studies, political science, and media and cultural studies will discuss the way in which recent events have signaled a new imperative to theorize the conditions and figurations of dissent, as well as interdisciplinary aporiae around the interaction between localized practices of dissent, technologies of visibility, and global networks of discontent.

Typically, the fellows spend time working in their offices in the center, and then meet to discuss the project that they are working on together. Although the faculty members approach the topics differently, they all share one overlapping interest and attempt to learn from the unique perspectives of their colleagues or learn a subject matter together. The visiting fellows work more independently and often want to work with a UCR faculty member. These fellows come from varying backgrounds from across the globe; recently, the center welcomed a visiting fellow who was on the President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship, a program in the UC system where professors of underrepresented groups can get a post doctorate at one of the UC campuses.

Georgia Warnke, who previously worked simultaneously as the director of the center and an associate dean, says one of the biggest challenges the center faces is lack of resources. “We have so many aspirations and funding is difficult to come by,” she said. One of the center’s aspirations is to get involved in summer programs, particularly to increase the number of minority students in grad schools. “We would like to start a summer program to mentor students between their junior and senior year in college and get them ready to apply to graduate school.”  Currently, the center is working on receiving funds from the American Philosophical Association to begin a project next summer for students who would like to attend graduate school for philosophy. The other big initiative is called the “Nature of Nature”, which promotes bringing both the natural sciences and humanities together and speak to the need for these two different ways of thinking about things to collaborate. “The question of water, for example, brings questions about who we are, who we want to be, our relationship to nature, how we live, and how we ought to live. So all of these questions about nature require that humanists and scientists get together and think about them together.  Often times, the ethical and normative questions don’t get raised until the end when it’s often too late.”

Due to the relocation, the center remains unknown to many of the students. “Undergraduate students can attend the center’s many programs which are held all over campus and at the center itself. There are always cookies at our events!” Warnke said.

Professors, however, express constant interest in coming to the center. “There is an advisory committee for the center, and one of its functions is to meet and decide which applications or ideas are most interesting,” she said. Four professors apply with a specific project in which they collaborate on a common idea. If it is not accepted, they can apply again after four years, and many often do. 

When asked about the broader impact of the center, financial director Katharine Henshaw stated, “The Center is aptly named: We are a nexus, an essential meeting point between Ideas, academic research across and among disciplines, and Society, a wide range of people that includes our campus, other UC’s and universities, and the citizens of Riverside, the state of California, and beyond. In disseminating research to the wider community, the Center helps ground the work of humanities scholarship in the lives of the public we serve.”

Both Warnke and Henshaw encourage students and faculty members to stop by, see the new offices, and attend their events. The center will be holding a garden party in conjunction with CHASS’s book party on May 14th to celebrate its grand opening.  

To learn more about the center, please refer to the following websites:




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